Last Updated on 09/10/2022
We compared the pros and cons of insulated vs uninsulated sleeping pads to figure out which is best during the different seasons. Do you need a different sleeping pad for summer and winter or can you get one that works for both? Here is what we found.
In summer months you don’t need an insulated sleeping pad but in most cases, it doesn’t hurt to use one. In cold weather, you definitely want some kind of insulation if you don’t want to feel cold. In winter you will need an insulated sleeping pad, an uninsulated sleeping pad won’t cut it.
Even if you have the warmest sleeping bag out there, when you lay on it your weight compresses the insulation so that it is unable to trap as much warm air. An uninsulated sleeping pad is only slightly warmer than sleeping on the ground and so to combat the winter weather you need an insulated pad. Check out our guide to R-values if you want to learn more.
Insulated Vs Uninsulated Sleeping Pads
Decide which is right for you by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of insulated vs uninsulated sleeping pads.
Benefits of Uninsulated Camping Mats
- Lightweight and Compact
- Less Expensive
- Perfect for Summer Campers
The main benefits of uninsulated camping mats Vs insulated camping mats are the weight, pack size, and price range.
Uninsulated pads have no insulation filling and contain only air which means they weigh less and pack down smaller. When you only have a small backpack with very little space for your other essentials it makes sense to take these small gains where you can. If you are hiking with your camping gear or backpacking around the world then staying as lightweight as possible is important for your back and knees (trust me!).
Because uninsulated air mattresses are less complicated to manufacture than insulated ones, they often cost much less. You can get a top-of-the-range uninsulated pad for well under $50 – $100 whereas with insulated pads you can expect to pay between $200 to $330+.
When you don’t need an insulated sleeping pad in summer, a lightweight budget sleeping pad will work just fine. This is the time of year that most people go camping anyway so isn’t it better to optimize for comfort and durability? Maybe. If you don’t think you will ever be camping in the cold then it would be an easy yes.
Downsides of Uninsulated Camping Mats
- Only Suitable for Summer Camping
The main disadvantage of uninsulated camping mats Vs insulated camping mats is that they aren’t really suitable for winter or even late autumn or early spring. The lack of thermal resistance means you will lose so much body weight to the ground that you will spend most of the cold nights shivering. You need some kind of thermal resistance barrier to stay warm and prevent heat loss through your sleeping pad, which is what insulation is for.
Benefits of Insulated Camping Mats
- Can be Used All Year Round
- Can be Lightweight and Compact (mylar lined)
- Extremely Warm
The main benefit of insulated camping mats Vs uninsulated camping mats is that they can be used all year round and in some of the coldest environments on the planet. The warmest sleeping pads are safe to use down to a staggering -58º F while you wouldn’t want to use an uninsulated sleeping pad past 60º F. Insulated sleeping pads keep you warm as well as comfortable.
While the down-filled or synthetic-filled sleeping pads are heavier and bulkier than non-insulated sleeping pads, you can get mylar-lined pads that are not. You can get sleeping pads with an R-value of 4.8 that have no dense fill, just a mylar reflective lining on the inside. Mylar lining is like having two or three emergency thermal blankets inside your sleeping pad but without the crinkly chip packet noise.
Insulation keeps you warm. If you prefer to sleep with a quilt instead of a sleeping pad then an insulated sleeping pad is what you need to provide warmth from below. Some sleeping pads are equipped with attachments for quilts and pillows which helps keep everything in place.
Downsides of Insulated Camping Mats
- Can be Heavier and Bulkier
- Can be Too Warm in Hot Weather
The main disadvantages of insulated camping mats Vs uninsulated camping mats are that they are more expensive and often heavier or bulkier to carry. These are sacrifices you must make if you are camping in freezing-cold temperatures.
Summary of Pros and Cons
If you rarely if ever go camping in cold weather then why spend the extra money on an insulated sleeping pad? Focus on comfort, durability, or pack size/weight instead.
If you are a cold sleeper or like to go camping all year round then it makes total sense to get an insulated sleeping pad. You could also just combine your summer sleeping bag with an extra foam pad or wool blanket on the rare occasions you do go camping in winter.
Uninsulated Vs Insulated Sleeping Pads by Season
Here is our guide on the types of sleeping pads you can use for each season of the year. We include our tips on how to get the most out of your sleeping bag and ways to combine it with other gear to achieve more warmth or comfort.
Do You Need an Insulated Sleeping Pad in Summer? (50°F – 80°F)
No, you don’t need an insulated sleeping pad in summer, an air mattress will work just fine. So long as you have an okay sleeping bag and you are in a part of the world that isn’t freezing all year round, you only really need a sleeping pad for comfort otherwise you can try an alternative.
Summer temperatures in America range from 80°F in Louisiana and Texas to 50°F in Alaska with a national average of 72°F. Always check the weather forecast so you can plan ahead and look for the nighttime low-temperature predictions instead of the daytime highs. In the hottest regions, an insulated sleeping pad may actually be uncomfortable if it is reflecting your body heat back at you during humid nights.
Do You Need an Insulated Sleeping Pad in Spring? (25°F – 70°F)
Depending on where you are, you may or may not need an insulated sleeping pad in spring. In most places across America, you can get away with a 2-3 season sleeping pad with an R-value of around 2 and up. You can reach this level of insulation by simply adding a cheap foam mat underneath your pad.
If you do a lot of camping then it is definitely worth getting an insulated sleeping pad for Spring use but you can certainly get by without one.
Spring temperatures in America range from 70°F in Florida to 25°F in Alaska with a national average of 52°F. Always check the weather forecast so you can plan ahead and look for the nighttime low-temperature predictions instead of the daytime highs.
Do You Need an Insulated Sleeping Pad in Autumn? (27°F – 73°F)
Just like in Spring, depending on where you are, you may or may not need an insulated sleeping pad in Autumn. In most places across America, you can get away with a 2-3 season sleeping pad with an R-value of around 2 and up. You can reach this level of insulation by simply adding a cheap foam mat underneath your pad so you don’t always need to spend a fortune.
If you do a lot of camping then it is 100% worth getting an insulated sleeping pad to use in Autumn but you can certainly get by without one.
Autumn temperatures in America range from 73°F in Florida to 27°F in Alaska with a national average of 54°F. Always check the weather forecast so you can plan ahead and look for the nighttime low-temperature predictions instead of the daytime highs.
Do You Need an Insulated Sleeping Pad in Winter? (2.6°F – 67°F)
In winter you almost always need an insulated sleeping pad to match the climate you are in. You should be looking for a sleeping pad with an R-value of at least 4 but preferably closer to R-6. This will prevent you from losing too much body heat through the ground and allow you to get a comfortable night’s sleep.
Winter temperatures in America range from 67°F in Hawaii to 2.6°F in Alaska with a national average of 33°F. Always check the weather forecast so you can plan ahead and look for the nighttime low-temperature predictions instead of the daytime highs.
Camping in winter is no joke, without the proper camping gear you can put yourself at serious risk of hypothermia. Get a decent sleeping pad with insulation and make sure your sleeping bag is also up to the task.
3 Season Sleeping Pad Vs 4 Season Sleeping Pad
When trying to decide between a 3-season Vs 4-season sleeping pad you need to be honest with yourself about how often you are going to be camping in winter or when there is snow on the ground. If you genuinely go out in winter every year then I fully recommend you get the best-insulated sleeping pad you can afford. If you are mostly a summer, spring, and autumn camper though, then you will save a bunch of money by getting a 2-3 season sleeping pad instead.
4 Ways to Decide Between an Insulated or Uninsulated Sleeping Pad
Whether you don’t own a sleeping pad yet or you have one of each, you can use these different frameworks to help decide what kind of sleeping pad you need for your next camping trip.
Plan by Climate
If you have access to both an insulated and uninsulated sleeping pad then the best way to decide which one to take is to check the weather forecast for nighttime lows. Once you know how cold it is going to be you can easily make a decision on whether you need warmer gear.
If you are going to be away for many months and are visiting lots of different climates then better safe than sorry – pack the warmer pad.
If you are trying to decide which type of sleeping pad to get then try and estimate the temperature ranges you are likely to be using it in. This is the best way to decide between insulated and non-insulated pads.
Plan by Season
Have you ever been camping in winter and if not, is there any reason to believe you will start anytime soon? If you have been winter camping or you plan on going camping this winter then you should think about getting a thermally insulated sleeping pad instead of using an air bed or foam mat. If you doubt you will be camping in the snow then save some money and get a more lightweight pad.
Most sleeping pads will have been tested for their thermal resistance and given an R-value number which will tell you roughly how many seasons it is good for. For three season camping, you should look for a sleeping pad with an R-2 – R-4 value which will keep you warm and comfortable for the best part of the year.
Weight and Pack Size
If you are backpacking or hiking long distances with all your gear on your back then weight and pack size has a big influence on what you can and can’t carry. If pack space and weight capacity is limited then you may want to compromise on warmth slightly in favour of a lightweight pad.
You can insulated sleeping pads that pack down almost as small and are almost as lightweight as some equivalent uninsulated camping pads, but they cost a small fortune. You can get insulated pads that only have a reflective liner which are almost warm enough for some winter temperatures. These thermal linings hardly have any impact on weight and pack size at all and cost half as much as most down filled sleeping mats.
The better way of looking at weight and pack size is to consider the warmth to weight ratio.
Value for Money
The final way you can decide which type of sleeping pad is right for you comes down to cost. If you can get a cheap sleeping pad that is 80% as good as the best sleeping pads but cost 75% less, is that a good trade off? For some people this makes the most sense and here’s why.
If you are new to camping or only go once every year or two then there is no point splashing out lots of money on the top insulated sleeping pads. The logic being that if you have a good sleeping pad that last 8 years or a cheap one that may need replacing in 5 then you save money by being cheap. But, if you go camping a lot then a more durable, lightweight, and comfortable sleeping pad will pay dividends in the future.
If you have the budget then we highly recommend you start with a mid-level sleeping pad that has some insulation and can handle a wider range of temperatures.
We hope this deep dive into the differences between insulated vs uninsulated sleeping pads helped you decide which one you need. If you need any extra advice just drop us a question or leave a comment and we will get back to you.